5 Things I learned as Cooperative Secretary in 2017

Time flies just the same very year, but why does it always surprise us when it does? I was appointed secretary of the Cooperative Insurance System of the Philippines (CISP), an insurance co-operative, in the summer of 2017.

At Cooperative Health Management Federation (CHMF), a healthcare co-operative, I have held the same position since its inception in 2014—I’m half-expecting one of the directors I banter with at CHMF to point out that my relative longevity there could be down to tolerance or by default, aha!

For now I’d like to take the moment of this new year to note five lessons I learned as co-operative secretary in 2017. Here we go—

One, life is a box of . . .

Unexpected surprises. My involvement in the co-operative movement being one of them.

I first met Roy Miclat more than 10 years ago. I was just out of law school, waiting for the results of the Bar exams. Today he is the president and CEO of both CHMF and CISP.

Roy then was with CLIMBS Life and General Insurance, another insurance co-operative. Aside from both being fans of the football club Manchester United and being from the same university, it helped that we both liked getting things done with minimal fuss.

What I still didn’t understand then was what the fuss was about co-operatives. Didn’t matter. I had my Roy of the Rovers, coop-wise.

When Roy would appear or make contact, I knew it was about getting stuff done. I’d like to say he’s my first mentor in the co-operative movement, except that he would probably deny it, being the on-the-level guy that he is.

When my government stint ended in 2010, I would work more closely on co-operative matters because of him.

Two, the history of cooperativism rocks

Anyone who loves reading and is naturally curious about how the world or the economy works would not find it hard to appreciate the history of co-operation. If you are this person, you will “self-indoctrinate.” There is an ideal, a romance to it.

Stories of successful cooperatives in the Philippines, such as First Community Cooperative (FICCO), which I am a member of, and ACDI Multipurpose Cooperative, are models of collective action and long-term thinking. The question is, are these stories being told often and well enough?

The recent work A Short History of Cooperation and Mutuality is fantastic. For your weekly reference, go to Co-operative News. Some stories you can watch on YouTube.

Three, 7am board meetings work

I am skeptical of meetings in general. At the bare minimum I think of meetings with a healthy dose of cynicism. Blame the talk-shop meetings I have wasted my life on in 15 years of working.

Imagine my initial horror of board meetings set at 7am. The shock was immediate; the reaction, instinctive.

But at CISP, chaired by B/Gen. Teodoro P. Evangelista, AFP (Ret), this is de rigueur. And I learned that early 7am board meetings work because (a) you leave before traffic builds up, thus, travel time is shorter; and (b) there’s more time to finish agenda items before 1pm or, on rare occasions, 2pm.

At CHMF, chaired by M/Gen. Gilbert S. Llanto, AFP (Ret), board meetings start at 9, 8:30 or 8am—as my barber would quip, “Partida na ‘yan!”

Four, startup thinking

One refreshing thing at CHMF and CISP is startup thinking. This is not by accident. CHMF is new and is essentially a startup. CISP is way older, but new in a sense because it is a few years into being under new management.

In these co-operatives, there’s no hasty gung-ho approach. There’s more evaluation and process. But new ideas are decisively embraced.

It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.
Steve Jobs

For example, CHMF is now building its mobile platform, with the help of Peppermint Innovation Limited. The project was first broached in 2015. Initial presentations were part of its strategic planning in early 2016. Then contract negotiations and scoping happened in 2017.

Every business is a technology business, I’ve read. I believe it.

Given the opportunity to help bring in tech to the mix of things early in the life of CHMF in 2015, I looked it as a chance to push for a tech-driven culture. For a tech-driven future.

The co-operative then was barely a year old. I recommended Peppermint, my own startup’s partner.

It was not without challenges. On the one hand, you have to “indoctrinate” the technology company about cooperativism, of a social mission bigger than the technical aspects of the project.

On the other hand, the co-operative has to decide to do what isn’t normally done, what it has not done before. It takes leadership and radical open-mindedness.

Five, tomorrow is exciting

Finally, I want to say that at a time when blockchain and AI are all the rage, what can’t be exciting nowadays for co-operative enterprises in general, and for insurance and healthcare co-ops, like CISP and CHMF, in particular?

For 2018, I will continue to be independently involved in The New Co-operator (TNC). We will also continue to build The Co-operative Exchange (TCX), The Co-operative Register (TCR) and The Co-operative Knowledgebase (TCK).

Suffice it to say for now that “self-indoctrination” in cooperativism works! If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, make this my Exhibit “A.”

That’s it for me so far. How about you? What’s your personal story in the co-operative movement? Let me hear from you

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